Bridgerton has acquired quite the reputation for its erotic Regency-era romance, so much so that the abundance of steamy sex scenes amid nineteenth-century high-class society has led to the series being dubbed “Bonkerton” by fans and critics alike. Back for a second season, Shonda Rhimes’s hit Netflix show returns with extravagant costumes, tumultuous drama, and a sultry romance that rivals anything the ‘ton has witnessed so far. Among an army of dressmakers, dance choreographers and etiquette experts is series intimacy coordinator Elizabeth Talbot, who spearheads the show’s electric chemistry and passionate intimacy.
“It felt like coming home,” Talbot said to W, regarding her return to Bridgerton’s set for season two. “A lot of the same great people who were there for season one are back again. They get how it works, there’s no resistance, and they know what I’m there to do.” The role of an intimacy coordinator is still incredibly new, and Talbot believes filming Bridgerton was the first time any of the cast had worked with someone in the position on set. But for an emerging production role, Talbot had her work cut out for her in season one, thanks to the large number of sexual exchanges between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon Bassett (Regé Jean-Page).
The latest season turns attention to the eldest Bridgerton brother, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), who is looking to marry for duty and is less enthused by the trappings of romantic love. Anthony is established as a rake, but behind the philanderer there is an emotional sensitivity that the upcoming season dedicates to teasing out. In conversation about the upcoming season, Talbot is keen to expel the myth that intimacy coordination is just about choreographing simulated sex sequences. “There’s so much tension in season two, it’s a very different type of intimacy than we see in season one. It’s a slow burn of intensity and longing,” she notes. From lingering glances to the slow pull of a glove off a hand, Anthony’s season simmers on his fervent but silently tempered attraction at the arrival of debutant sisters Kate (Simone Ashley) and Edwina (Charithra Chandran) to London from Bombay.
On set, Talbot’s role is nuanced, but the focus remains on ensuring the actions performed in front of the camera are consensual. After extracting intimate scenes from the scripts, she holds creative vision chats with each director and the cast prior to filming to discuss how she can support them. “If you’re kissing someone onscreen you can’t see what that looks like and the director has a thousand other things that they’re thinking about. Whereas, for me, I do this day in [and] day out, so they’ve got someone who’s highly experienced in the room specifically for this aspect,” Talbot notes. Checking in before and after scenes with the actors, she is a safeguarding presence involved on set anytime an actor has a scene in a bath, or whenever performers are squeezing into corsets or appearing in a state of undress. “We’re there even though it’s not positioned as sexual,” she says.
Talbot identifies respecting the distinction between actor and character as integral in her line of work, but that dividing line has led to some pushback. “Actors are told to be open to anything, accept everything, and get on with it. I can’t emphasize it enough, for so long the line was, ‘If you don’t like the industry, leave,’” she says. “I know Julie Anne Robinson [director of episodes one and six of Bridgerton] was very hesitant, she’s spoken about that in interviews. But she was a director who really enjoyed the journey of it,” Talbot adds. She notes one of the most rewarding outcomes is to work with an uncertain director who ends up “convinced [working with an intimacy coordinator] is the only way forward.”
Intimacy coordinators were practically nonexistent on film sets until around 2017, after the position was developed on a grassroots level in the theater world. Previously, as Talbot puts it, “You were relying on the good graces of your scene partner and the ethics of the director.” The proliferation of the role was accentuated in a post-Me Too environment, with conversations spotlighting set etiquette and power dynamics. “It was fairly unusual to have an intimacy coordinator in 2019, even 2020,” Talbot clarifies. “It’s been a very slow process.” The awareness of this role has steadily increased as a result of Talbot’s work on Bridgerton, and even SNL parodied its growing necessity in a sketch starring Jean-Page. As the requirement of this role continues to evolve and gain traction in the scope of Hollywood, there remains a fundamental need for wider knowledge surrounding the necessity of a trained professional to oversee nudity and simulated sex practices on set.
While intimacy coordination may be associated with choreographing heady sex scenes, Talbot has also worked on BBC and AMC drama This Is Going To Hurt to coordinate the nudity that appears in a series about an obstetrics and gynecology junior doctor. “Every time Ben Whishaw had his hands between someone’s legs, we were there. Not only for the actors, who are playing the pregnant people, but also for Ben, who’s also in a vulnerable position,” Talbot explains. The brutally emotional show portraying life working on an NHS labor ward features dozens of pregnancies and births, so Talbot found herself occupied with numerous prosthetic vaginas: “Working with prosthetics is really interesting because you have to treat them as if they’re real. Even if it’s not that actor’s vagina, you have to treat it as such: they still have nudity riders. Even though they’re not exposing themselves, they’re exposing something the audience perceives as them, so they still need ownership over it.”
Communicating what actors want or, perhaps more importantly, don’t want is at the core of Talbot’s role. For Bridgerton, her first port of call is the wardrobe department for layered modesty garments to prevent genitalia contact. In this season, illustrious balls and decadent soirées offer some of the show’s most dramatic moments, and Talbot is quick to note her collaboration with Jack Murphy’s choreography in these scenes. “He does such an incredible job creating such beautiful balls, which often have a high level of sexual tension,” she says. She adds that historian and etiquette advisor Hannah Greig and dialect coach Jane Karen ensured “hot and heavy” scenes would adhere to the period setting. That nineteenth-century context introduces a host of challenges: “We had to take care around some Regency beds because they’re a lot smaller!” Talbot laughs. In the newest season, the success of Talbot’s work exists in the longing looks and fervent desires that smolder with lingering intensity, and one thing’s for sure: you’ll be hard pressed to find a romantic drama with a slow burn intimacy quite like this season of Bridgerton.